En Esta Navidad…

La Navidad es un tiempo para pasarlo en familia con gozo, regalos, y normalmente mucha comida. Con una exepción, cuando sufrimos una perdida significativa. En ese caso las fiestas tienden a ser tristes y reflectivas. Tendemos a recordar los seres amados que hemos perdido, y esos recuerdos nos vuelven a asegurar que no los volveremos a ver, hasta que todos nos encontremos en el Reino de Dios. Hace siete años mi padre pasó a la presencia del Señor un par de semanas antes de la Navidad. Mi padre era mi mejor amigo, mi mentor, y era siempre el alma de las fiestas. El perderlo era muy duro para mi. Recuerdo pasar las fiestas pensando en todas las veces que celebramos la Navidad juntos, y pensando en lo que estaríamos haciendo ahora, si el estuviese aún con nosotros. Créanme, las fiestas pueden ser muy deprimentes cuando hemos sufrido una perdida significativa.

En este 2018 mi esposa y yo pasamos por un proceso de adopción inesperado, y un bebé recien nacido nos fue entregado en adopción por sus padres biológicos, quienes nos aseguraron que les era imposible tener el bebé, y nos pidieron que lo adoptemos para darle una mejor vida. Nosotros aceptamos con alegría, e hicimos todos los preparativos necesarios para adoptar legalmente a nuestro bebé Joshua. Como toda adopción, el proceso era largo, caro y complejo, pero desde el primer día nosotros aceptamos el desafio, y adoptamos al bebé en nuestros corazones, y no escatimamos esfuerzos para cumplir con todos los requerimientos legales y finalizar el proceso de adopción legalemente. Cada uno de nosotros hizo los sacrificios necesarios para adoptar a ese bebé precioso. Después de seis semanas de expectativa estresante y anticipación gozosa, nuestro dia de corte finalmente llegó. El día en que la corte legalemente nos consedía el derecho de adoptar a Joshua. Fuimos a la corte expectantes, felices, y listos para tener un cuarto miembro de la familia Youssef. Desafortunadamente las cosas se tornaron muy diferentes a nuestras expectativas. La madre biológica del bebé compareció ante la juez diciendo que ha cambiado de parecer y qu quiere recuperar su bebé de inmediato. No tengo que decirles cuan doloroso fue eso para nosotros. Aún me es dificil expresar los sentimientos que tenemos, y el dolor que sentimos.

La Navidad tiende a ser difícil cuando no tienes tus seres amados contigo. Culaquiera que fuese tu perdida, la Navidad tiende a maginificar ese dolor. Esta mañana me desperté pensando en el gozo que hubiera sido tener a nuestro bebé Joshua con nosotros para esta Navidad. Los regalos, los mimos, y las risas que hubieramos compartido juntos Pero… ya no tenemos al bebé, y no podemos hacer nada al respecto. Entiendo que nuestra perdida es muy diferente de quién ha perdido un conyuge, padre, madre, hermanos, o aún hijos que haya criado toda una vida. Sin embargo nuestra perdida es muy significativa para nosotros. Llevamos ocho años orando por un bebé para adoptar. Cuando esa pareja de padres biológicos nos buscaron y nos pidieron que adoptaremos a su bebé, nosotros creimos que era la respuesta a nuestras oraciones. Mi hijita se le llenó el corazón de alegría de finalmente tener un hermanito. Perder a Joshua fue muy duro para ella, y para cada uno de nosotros! Pero… el tiempo de la Navidad ha llegado, y aún con el corazón quebrantado hemos decidido celebrar. Celebrar a otro Bebé que ha nacido en un humilde pesebre hace más de 2000 años atrá, para traernos esperanza, gozo y paz. El nacimiento de Jesús es el milagro más grande de la historia humana! Dios se hizo hombre, y habitó entre nosotros! Cuando pienso en la majestad del Creador del universo, quedo admirado de pensar en su gran amor y su gran sacrificio en hacerse hombre, vivir entre nosotros, morir por nosotros, y resucitar de los muertos para reconciliarnos consigo mismo para siempre!

Sea que estemos sufriendo, o de luto, el mensaje de la Navidad sigue siendo la única esperanza de la humanidad. La esperanza de que somos adoptados en la familia de Dios, somos aceptados hijos de Dios, y que un día seremos reunidos con El y con nuestros seres queridos que han partido a la presencia del Señor. Nuestra esperanza es que viviremos con El en gozosa adoración por la eternidad! Sin embargo nada de eso hace que el tiempo de Navidad sea facil cuando estamos sufriendo, pero el gozo de las Buenas Nuevas de la incarnación de Cristo no debe ni puede ser opacada por el sufrimiento humano. Porque después de todo, nuestro peor enemigo ya ha sido derrotado por la resurrección del Dios incarnado!  1 Corintios 15:52-57 FELIZ NAVIDAD A TODOS!!

 

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A Differrent Christmas Blog

Christmas is a time for family, joy, gifts and usually over-eating. With one exception, when you have suffered a significnat loss. Then the holidays tend to be heartbreaking, reflective and sad. We tend to remember the loved ones we have lost, and these memories remind us that we won’t see them, till we meet again in the Kingdom of God. Seven years ago, my Dad passed away a couple of weeks before Christmas. My Dad was my best friend, my mentor, and just a joy to be around. Loosing him was simply heartbreaking. I remember going through the holidays thinking of every holiday we spent together, and thinking of what we would be doing if he was still there with us. Believe me, the holidays tend to get very depressing when you are mourning a significant loss.

This 2018, my wife and I went through an unexpected adoption process, where a baby was placed in our care at birth. We were asked by the bilogical parents to adopt him, since they had no way to raise the baby. We joyfully accepted, and made all the preparations to  legally adopt baby Joshua. Since it was an international adoption, the process was brutal and complex, but from day 1 we accepted the challenge, adopted the baby in our hearts, and spared no effort to fulfill all the legal requirements to finalize the adoption process successfully. Each one of us made the necessary sacrificies to parent this precious baby boy. After 6 weeks of joyful and stresful anticipation, our court date arrived. The day when the court would legaly grant us the right to legally adopt Joshua. We went to court expectant, hopeful and ready to have a 4th member of the Youssef family. Unfortunately things turned out different than our expectations. Right in front of the judge, the birth mother changed her mind, and decided she wanted her baby back. Needless to say it was, and still is heartbreaking for all of us. I still can’t share all the details of what we felt, and how we feel today.

Christmas tends to be difficult when you don’t have your loved ones around you. Whatever your loss may be, Christmas magnifies the pain. Today, I woke up thinking of the joy it would have been to have baby Joshua with us. All the gifts, all the spoiling, and the laughs. But… he is not here, and we cannot do anything about it. I realize that our loss is different than loosing a spouse, a parent, a sibiling or a child that you raised his/her whole life. Nevertheless it was a very significant loss for us. My wife, my daugther and I have been praying for over 8 years for another child, and we thought Joshua was the one! We sure received him as the one we have been praying for. Loosing him wasn’t, and isn’t easy for us. Yet Christmas time came by, and we decided to celebrate. Celebrate another baby boy that was born in a manger over 2000 years ago to bring us hope, peace and joy. The birth of Christ is the greatest miracle in human history! God became man, and lived among us! When I think of the majesty of the Creator of the universe, I can’t stop being at awe of His great love and great sacrifice to become human, live among us, die for us, and raise from the dead to reconcile us back to himself!

Wether we are suffering or mourning, the message of Christmas is still the only hope of the world. Hope that we are adopted into the family of God. Hope that we are accepted as children of God. Hope that we will be reunited with Him and those whom we have lost in Christ. Hope that we will live forever with God and his family in joyful adoration. That doesn’t make Christmas easy when we are mourning, but the joy of the Good News of Christ’s incarnation cannot and should not be overshadowed by our human suffering, becasue after all, our worst enemy have been defeated by the resurrection of the incarnated God. 1 Corinthinas 15:52-57

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The Life of a Refugee Family

A while ago a small family under intense persecution, had to flee from their homeland in the Middle East. They were recommended to find refuge in a neighboring, much wealthier nation, where they resettled for a season. Their  host nation welcomed them, and their new neighbors helped them to settle in and make a living for themselves. During their stay, they rapidly won the favor of the community, and everyone was happy to have them there. Learning a new culture and a new language could be challenging, but with a good friends and a great attitude, it’s much easier to adapt.

 
The years passed by, and the political situation changed in their homeland, and that precious family was told it’s safe to go back. They gathered their few belongings, thanked their gracious neighbors, blessed their host nation, and off they went back to resettle in their country and rebuild their lives once again. Goes without saying, that all these changes, and relocations weren’t easy on any of them. But, they arrived to their old town, relaunched a small family business to make a living, and did their best to readapt to their old community. Sadly, their own weren’t as gracious and as kind to them, as their friends in the nation were they spent a season as refugees. Nevertheless, they lived a peaceful life, and did their best to overcome any stigma  the society was putting on them.

 
Many years later, their first born decided to leave the family trade, and go into religious studies. Suddenly they found him in the streets speaking about God, love and forgiveness. Message that was received by some and rejected by others. This messenger ended up giving his life to fulfill his mission and calling, and when He rose from the dead conquering the power of the tomb, He granted mercy and forgiveness of sins to all who believes in him, including those who plotted to crucify him. It is in His name that every human being have a chance to stand before God forgiven from sins, by faith in the grace extended through Jesus Christ, the Lord!

 
Yes, Jesus was a refugee, of all places in Egypt. He was a blessing while he was there in the flesh as a baby, and he is a blessing there today as Lord of lords and Savior of the world. I am thankful that my ancestors, 2000 years ago welcomed the holy family and received in my country of birth. Although I know that God is sovereign, but I often wonder how the story would have developed if Egypt wouldn’t have welcomed the family of Jesus.

 
I understand that there is a big discussion today about the refugee crisis in our world. Many times we tend to get distracted with the headlines and we don’t think about the heart lines. In other words, what are we doing to help relief the refugees around us? It’s gonna take a lot to make global changes, but it takes a heart decision to make difference in one family’s life.  Yes, that one family on the other side of your city, in that rundown apartment building, that dress differently, worship differently and even talk differently. It all starts with a heart decision to love them like Jesus loved us (when we didn’t deserve it). Serve them like Jesus served us (even when it’s inconvenient). And give them a second chance like Jesús gave us a second, third, forth and…. chances.

 
If you would like to respond to the refugee crisis, here are some things we do at home, and many of our friends are doing in other nations to serve refugees:

 
– We help them to do the simple practical things that we take for granted. Get a driver’s license, find a nice park for their children to visit, navigate local burocraccy, etc…
– Take them to the doctor. Even when they have health insurance, many times they are not well received by themselves. It’s always powerful to have a friend that stands with you.
– Invite them home for a family dinner, and prepare the meal ourselves. Go and have a meal at their home, and appreciate their hospitality, even within their financial limitations.
-Help them to practice the new language. Most places offer free language class for new comers. What they don’t offer is someone to practice the language with on a regular basis.
– Share with them the things that helped us improve our lives, including our faith and our devotion to God. If we truly believe that our relationship with God plays a major rol in our lives, how can we not share about it with those that we hope to see thrive and prosper as well?

 

May God help us to be salt and light in the darkest of circumstances.

Pledges and Protests 

About a year and half ago, my wife and I (and over 90 other people) stood in front of a judge, during a solemn ceremony, where we joyfully recited these words:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

These words meant something very profound to us. It meant that we belong to a nation that we love, and that we worked very hard to be a part of. We  haven’t stopped loving Bolivia, or Egypt (the nations where we were born). But, now we have a new nation for our family unit, and we are grateful and happy to be part of it. We are under no ilussion that a piece of paper, called citizenship certificate make us fit in the culture. We understand that after 10 years living in America, and now holding the blue passport, we still might not quite be treated like natives. But… we are thankful for the opportunity to be a part, and to help this great nation to keep moving forward, and meet the only hope of the world. Jesus the Lord.

That’s why, when I look at the many protests, hate speeches, and flag burnings of our new nation, it is simply sad and mind bogalling to me. I do understand freedom of speech, and I highly value it. But is there anything sacred anymore? Is there anything worth respecting and honoring? 

I am reminded of the wise words of an old teacher that said to his students in a 2000 year old letter  “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Galatians‬ ‭5:13-15‬ ‭

Let’s not use our freedom to attack each other, and hurt our nation. Instead, how about we upgrade the standard of  tolerance to RESPECT one another? Maybe we can give it a try. Maybe we can follow the standard of Jesus, that loved us to the ultimate sacrifice, in order to give us a chance to be his friends. 

Please join me in praying for our nation, and our world.  

Carb Fights

Few month ago I was in the Dominican Republic, being a part of a big outreach on the largest university in town. Part of my job was to translate for the speaker, Dr. Rice Broocks, so I got to be on several TV interviews. Well, they say that the camera adds 5 pounds to your appearance. It seemed like I had several cameras pointing at me. I came out of that trip with a decision to loose weight, and work on getting a healthier lifestyle. That’s when my fight with carbs began.

 

As someone who lived a third of his life in Egypt, a third in Bolivia, and the last third in America, I have been hugely exposed to a daily diet rich in carbs. Egypt is knwon for the quality and the quantity of its bread. Bolivia is the land of rice, yuca and potatoes. And America is unfortunatley the land of sugar. So no matter which culinary culture I claimed, I was surrounded by carbs. Not only that, but also convinced that the thing to avoid is fat, or fatty type foods. To be fair, I always knew that an excess of cabs is bad for me, and that sugar specifically, has a lot of bad ramifications for our bodies. Nevertheless, I chose to ignore that knowledge and follow the culture around me.

 

I am not a health savy, and I don’t pretend to be there any time soon, but I do know that by cutting the bad carbs, and reducing my carb intake in general, I lost 20 pounds over 3  month (not fast, but consistent). I feel better health wise, I have more energy every day, and I can focus better on my ministry to do list. But I have to say, it doesn’t come without a fight. Everyday I have to remind myself why I am doing this. Every time I get with friends, and they are indulging on a cheeseburger, fries, or simply a cup of soda. I have to stop and remind myself of the benefits of broccoli, salmon, and sugarless foods in general.

 

I know this is suppose to be a blog about faith, and faith related matters, but I thought if my struggle to live a healthier lifestyle can be of assitance to anyone, it’s well worth the try. We are called by God (each one of us beleivers) to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19). To accomplish such a gigantic task, we need to stay healthy not only spiritual, but also physically. That is why Paul said to Timothy “Take good care of yourself and the doctrine…” 1 Timothy 4:16

 

 

Overcoming Fear

Few years ago when we lived in Miami, I was invited to speak in a pastors conference near Fort Myers. To go from Miami to Fort Myers you have to cross the Everglades. If you ever had to drive through the swamp, you know that it is a long road with no gas stations. For some reason, I was distracted that day, and didn’t realize I was very low on gas when I entered the Everglades section of the journey. Talk about fear… all I could think of is being stranded in middle of the swamp with my family on board in 90 degrees weather, and no gas on sight.

 

Fear is a very real and very powerful emotion. Fear is one of the worst enemies we have to live with, and fight against everyday of our lives. Fear can simply paralize us from reaching our maximum potential in life, or even our daily goals. Fear is so powerful that it paralyzed a strong army general, when he found out that his superior is gone, and he is now the one in charge.

 

God called Joshua to lead Israel to the promise land, right after Moses passed away. We can see in Joshua 1:1-9 how fearful the strong general was. Nevertheless, God did not rebuke him for his fear. Instead he encouraged him repeatedly, and promised him to be with him as he acts in faith. At its core, fear is an abscence of faith. So the obvious antidote to fear is to cultivate a life of faith. I know I do write about faith a lot these days, but I don’t think it’s possible to have too much faith.

 

Driving through the Everglades, I had no option but to keep going and praying that the gas in my tank will suffice till I cross the desert. Unfortunately, life have way too many options, and it’s usually easier to get discouraged, turn around, stop, or even abnadon the road all together. That is why as believers, we need to constantly feed ourselves with the only thing that can fill our faith tank. The Bible! The Word of God is what can fill us with faith to respond and react to all the fear we face in today’s world. Whatever it would be, terrorism, sickness, government changes etc… We fight fear by faith, and faith comes from listening to the Word of God. So we do good by developing the daily habit of listening to God’s Word. As simple, and as foundational as this may sound.

 

I did make it through the Everglades back then, and we will make it through our spiritual desert, if we keep filling our faith tank daily.

 

 

Between Life and Death

Last week I received the sad news that a dear friend of mine went to be with the Lord. It all happened so fast and unexpectedly, that it got me thinking about the meaning of life and death. As believers, we surely  have a strong hope in the resurection, and the glorious life that awaits us on the other side of eternity. Nevertheless, the departure of a loved one is always a time of sadness and reflection.

 

The Bible encourages us to number our days, and to be wise on how we spend our time,  because the days are evil. On the other hand, a constant biblical command encourages us to live by faith. As I pondered on all that, I came up to these simple conclusions:

 

  • The brevity of life should remind us to enjoy today. Wether it is the fast pase western society, or the more relaxed reflective eastern one, most of us live our lives trying to catch up with tomorrow. We plan, work, go, and even dream as if tomorrow was already here. Then one day we wake up  and realize that today is gone and we didn’t get to live it or even enjoy it. All the tecnology, and the age of the information we are living in is pushing us more and more to what’s happening next, and we fail to enjoy our today. Mayeb that is just me, but it seemed like I’m always playing catch up with tomorrow. So, I decided to stop a few minutes everyday, and enjoy my present time, before it becomes my past. That way, when the future comes, I can walk in it with confidence and trust.

 

  • Living by faith is a constant struggle. When you are starting your  walk with God, you tend to think that the heroes of the Faith in Hebrew 11, were giants that had no difficulties, just vicotries. As you grow in your relationship witht the Lord, you realize that most (if not all) lived a life of struggle between the promises of God and its fulfillment. Some even died without receiveng what was promised. Nevertheless, they never stopped, they kept moving forward even when they couldn’t see a path, or even clarity for the next steps. When you find yourself taking steps in a fog, do not get discouraged, just remember that you are part of a great cloud of witnesses to the next generation coming behind you.

 

  • We still have a mission to accomplish. Life is brief, and we will struggle to live it by faith. But… we still have a mission to accomplish. Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-19 is for each one of us. If nothing else, you and I are called to go and make disciples of all nations. In our own context, and according to our own culture and opportunities, but we are all called to share our faith with others and lead them to a personal relationship with Christ.

 

May God help each one of us to find the balance between enjoying today, living by faith, and accomplishing the mission that He put in front of us.